Discover The Overhead Press Muscles Worked Plus 9 Variations

overhead press muscles worked

The Overhead Press is a compound exercise performed using a barbell and puts a heavy focus on the Deltoid and Tricep muscle groups.

In addition to the deltoids and triceps, this exercise also trains the upper chest muscles (pectoralis major), and the upper back muscles (trapezius and latissimus dorsi).

Sometimes referred to as the military press, this exercise is a great exercise to work the entire body.

Recommended Reading – 7 Benefits Of Overhead Press To Build Greater Shoulder Power

The overhead press is an excellent exercise for building strength and muscle mass to the shoulders and improving overall body strength.

Additionally, it can aid with posture and guard against muscular imbalances in the shoulders and upper back.

What’s more, it’s a functional exercise you can perform to help in daily life, such as lifting overhead objects or pushing open a heavy door.

Overall, the overhead press is valuable to include in a weightlifting routine.

It not only targets the muscles of the shoulders but also engages the upper back, chest, and arms, making it a comprehensive movement for strengthening the upper body.

In this article we discuss the overhead press muscles worked plus hand selected exercises for you to use next time your training your deltoids.

How To Overhead Press

  1. To perform the overhead press properly, begin by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and holding a barbell or dumbbell at shoulder height. Engage your core and keep your back straight throughout the press. Doing this will help maintain proper form and prevent injury.
  2. Next, exhale and press the weights overhead, fully extending your arms.
  3. Maintain close elbow contact with your torso and avoid locking your elbows at the top of the movement.
  4. Whilst exhaling, lower the weights back to shoulder height.

It is essential to use a full range of motion but not so low that your upper arms are parallel to the ground.

Doing this can put unnecessary strain on the shoulders.

Maintaining good form and technique when performing the overhead press is essential.

Avoid arching your back or lifting your heels off the ground, and tightly control your core muscles and keep an upright back throughout the exercise.

Avoid using too much weight. Using too heavy weights can lead to poor form and increase the risk of injury.

You can use several variations of the overhead press to challenge the muscles differently.

For example, you can use different weights, such as a barbell or dumbbell, or modify the range of motion by performing the press from a seated position.

8 Overhead Press Variations

There are several variations of this exercise that you can perform including:

Push Press

The push press is a variation of the overhead barbell press that involves using a combination of upper body and leg strength to press the barbell upward.

This exercise targets the same muscle groups as the traditional barbell overhead press, including the shoulders, triceps, and upper back.

How To Do The Push Press

  • To perform the push press, position yourself with your feet hip width apart and toes slightly pointing outwards.
  • Hold the barbell with an overarm grip, positioning it on your upper chest with your elbows bent.
  • Dip your knees slightly, then quickly extend your legs and press the barbell upward, extending your arms overhead.
  • Pause and then lower back to the starting position.
  • Perform the required number of reps.

To avoid injury, maintain an upright posture and do not arch your lower back during this exercise. The push press can help increase your overall upper body strength and power.

Standing Barbell Overhead Press

The standing barbell overhead press involves pressing a barbell upwards from the shoulders until the arms are fully extended.

This exercise works the arm muscles, shoulder, and upper back.


How To Perform The Standing Barbell Press

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart, and hold a barbell at shoulder width with an overhand grip (palms facing forward).
  • Engage your core and raise the barbell, pressing it straight above until the arms are extended completely.
  • Lower the barbell back slowly to the starting position, keeping your core tight and your back straight all throughout the movement.

Maintaining proper form whilst performing this exercise is necessary to avoid injury and maximize its effectiveness.

Keep your core tight and back straight and resist the urge of using leg momentum to press the barbell upwards.

Having a spotter assist you with the exercise may also be helpful, especially when lifting a heavyweight.

Seated Barbell Overhead Press

The correct position for performing this overhead press variation is sitting on a bench.

Maintain a flat foot on the floor at all times and with an overhand grip, you would press upwards from the shoulders until the arms are fully extended overhead.

This exercise targets the same muscles as the standing barbell overhead press but may be more comfortable for some individuals and can help to maintain proper form by limiting the range of motion and use of the legs and lower body.

Requirements: Barbell and a weight bench.

How To Perform The Seated Overhead Barbell Press

  • Sit on a bench and keep your feet flat on the floor giving you stability.
  • Hold the barbell at shoulder height with an overhand grip so that your palms are facing away from you.
  • Engage your core and press the barbell upwards until your arms are completely extended.
  • Pause at the top and then slowly lower the bar back to the starting position keeping you core engaged throughout.

As with the standing barbell overhead press, maintaining a proper position during this exercise is crucial. Any slight mistake in posture may lead to injury. It can sometimes be helpful to position a bench under a squat rack or smith machine.

Standing Kettlebell Overhead Press

kettlebell overhead shoulder press

The standing kettlebell overhead press targets the shoulders and upper body muscles.

Requirements: You will need a kettlebell and a clear, open space to move around.

How To Perform The Standing Kettlebell Overhead Press

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold the kettlebell in one hand. The kettlebell should be resting outside your shoulder, with your elbow bent and close to your body.
  • Press the kettlebell above your head exhaling as you do so.
  • Keep your core engaged and your back straight as you move the kettlebell overhead.
  • Once you have fully extended your arm, pause for a moment and gently lower the kettlebell back to the starting position.

Keep your elbow tucked in as you press the kettlebell overhead, and avoid letting your elbow flare out to the side. You should also avoid arching your back or letting your hips sway.

Seated Kettlebell Overhead Press

The seated kettlebell overhead press targets the shoulders and upper body muscles as is a little less challenging than the standing variation of this exercise.

Requirements: Kettlebell and a weight bench or sturdy chair to perform the exercise.

How To Perform The Seated Kettlebell Overhead Press

  • Sit on the edge of a bench or chair with your feet shoulder width apart.
  • Hold the kettlebell in one hand, rest it on the outside of your shoulder, and your elbow bent close to your body.
  • Press the kettlebell above your head.
  • Keep your core engaged and your back straight as you press the kettlebell towards the ceiling.
  • Once you have fully extended your arm, pause for a moment before slowly returning back to the starting position.

Retract Shoulder Stretch

The reverse or retract shoulder stretch targets the shoulders, upper back, and chest muscles. It is a great warm up exercise to improve flexibility and mobility in these areas and can help relieve tension and soreness.

Recommended Reading – 9 Essential Overhead Stability Exercises To Build Shoulders

How To Perform A Retract Shoulder Stretch

  • Stand with your feet shoulder width apart with your arms down by your side.
  • Engage your core muscles and raise your arms to shoulder height, keeping your elbows bent at a 90-degree angle.
  • Then, slowly pull your shoulders back and down, feeling a stretch in your chest and shoulders.
  • Hold this position for a few seconds, then release and repeat for a desired number of repetitions.

Holding your core muscles tight, keep your chest lifted throughout the exercise to maintain proper form and maximize the stretch.

You may want to try this stretch with a resistance band for increased tension.

This is a great stretching exercise to open up the chest and reduce tightness to the deltoids.

Military Press

The military press targets the shoulders and upper body muscles, and it is similar to the overhead press but with a few key differences.

The difference between the OHP and military press is the position of the feet and the body during the movement.


The military press position allows for a more vertical pressing motion, which can help to target the deltoid muscles in the shoulders more effectively.

The second difference is the position of the hands and the elbows.

In the military press, the hands are typically positioned slightly wider apart on the barbell, with the elbows positioned directly beneath the wrists. It allows for a more efficient pressing motion and can distribute the weight evenly across the shoulders and upper body.

Requirements: You will need a barbell and clear, spacious surroundings to undertake the movement.

Recommended Reading – Benefits Of Military Press And 6 Essential Tips To Improve The Exercise

How To Perform A Military Press

  • Stand with your feet slightly closer together and hold the barbell at shoulder level resting it across your upper chest.
  • Your palms should be facing forward, and your elbows should be bent and kept tucked in.
  • Lean slightly forward and engage your core and hips to provide stability.
  • Push the barbell straight up overhead and slightly push your head forwards so that the barbell is directly over and above you.
  • Keep your core engaged and your back straight as you press the barbell overhead.
  • Once you have fully extended your arm, pause for a moment and carefully lower the bar back to the starting position.

Press and Clean

The press and clean are two separate exercises often combined into a single movement known as the clean and press.

The press is a strength training exercise involving pressing a weight upward from your shoulders until your arms are fully extended.

The clean is a weightlifting exercise that involves explosively lifting a weight from the ground to your chest, using a combination of leg and hip power.

This exercise model usually occurs in the Olympics but was later scrapped because judges could not effectively determine the success of the movement.

However, we now see snatch and clean and jack in Olympic weightlifting.

How To Perform The Press And Clean

  • Stand with your feet shoulder width and your knees slightly bent. Hold the weight with an overhand grip, positioning it on the ground in front of you.
  • Bend your knees and hips, and use your legs and hips to lift the weight up to your chest, keeping your arms straight.
  • From this position, quickly dip your knees and use the momentum to press the weight overhead, extending your arms.
  • Lower the weight back to the starting position, and repeat for the desired reps.

The press and clean are challenging exercises that require coordination, power, and strength.

They are often used in Olympic weightlifting and CrossFit training.

Overhead Press – Muscles Worked

The overhead press has become popular in many commercial gyms, the Olympics, and amongst both athletes and bodybuilders.

But what are the primary muscles worked during this exercise?

The main muscle worked during an overhead press exercise are the deltoids.

The overhead press also works the triceps, which are located on the back of the upper arms.

The triceps are prime movers responsible for extending the elbow joint, and they play a crucial role in helping to push the weight overhead during the overhead press.

The upper back muscles, specifically the trapezius and the serratus anterior, are also involved in the overhead press.

Let’s see how the overhead press begins its work on each muscle.


The deltoid muscle is a large, triangular muscle located at the shoulder and gives the shoulder it’s rounded appearance.

It is responsible for the movement of the arm at the shoulder joint. It is divided into three distinct parts: the anterior deltoid (front delts), the lateral (side) deltoid, and the posterior (rear) deltoid.

During the overhead press, the front delts are primarily activated as they help lift the weight overhead.

The lateral deltoid also plays a role in this movement, helping to stabilize the shoulder joint and keep the weight in line with the body.

The posterior deltoid is not as heavily involved in the overhead press. However, it provides support and stability to the shoulder joint during the movement.

The deltoid muscle is vital for a variety of movements at the shoulder, including shoulder flexion, abduction, and rotation.

It is also involved in stabilizing the shoulder joint and keeping the arm in proper alignment during movements such as pushing and pulling.


During the overhead press, the tricep muscles become active as they help extend the elbow joint and push the weight overhead.

The triceps are situated behind the upper arm.

They are made up of three different heads: the long head, the lateral head, and the medial head.

As the weight is lifted overhead during the overhead press, the long head of the triceps is activated as it helps to extend the elbow joint.

The lateral and medial heads of the triceps also play a role in this movement, providing stability and support to the elbow joint as the weight is pushed overhead.

Recommended Reading – Biceps vs Triceps : Critical Differences You Need To Know

In addition, the triceps also play a role in stabilizing the shoulder joint during the overhead press.

It helps to keep the upper arm in line with the body and prevent it from drifting outwards.

So doing this helps to maintain proper form and avoid injury during the exercise.

The triceps are also an important muscle group for the overhead press, providing the strength and power needed to push the weight overhead.

You can improve your overall upper body strength and power by strengthening the triceps through the overhead press and other triceps-focused exercises.


The trapezius muscle, commonly known as the “traps,” is a large, triangular-shaped muscle extending from the skull’s base to the middle of the back.

The trapezius muscle is divided into three distinct sections: the upper trapezius, the middle trapezius, and the lower trapezius.

Whilst performing the overhead press, the middle and upper trapezius muscles become active as they help to stabilize the shoulder blades.

They keep the shoulder in place during the movement.

The trapezius muscles contract to hold the shoulder blades in position, preventing them from moving excessively.


The pectoralis major muscle is located in the chest and primarily involves moving the arm at the shoulder joint.

During the overhead press, the pectoralis major muscle is not heavily involved in the movement.

However, it does provide some stability and support to the shoulder joint.

As you press the weight overhead during the overhead press, the pectoralis major muscle contracts to help maintain a stable and neutral position at the shoulder joint.

Thus practicing this helps to prevent the shoulder from moving excessively and reduces the risk of injury.

The pectoralis major muscle also plays a role in maintaining proper posture while performing overhead presses.

It helps maintain a straight, upright posture. It reduces the risk of rounding the shoulders forward by keeping the chest lifted and the shoulders back.

Benefits Of The Overhead Press To The Muscles

Below are a number of benefits that you can encounter when incorporating the overhead press exercise into your workout routine.

The first benefit of the overhead press is that it’s an effective way to build strength and size in the shoulders.

The overhead press targets the deltoid muscles in the shoulders, which are responsible for shoulder abduction, flexion, and extension.

By regularly performing the overhead press, you can increase the strength and size of your deltoids, resulting in a more muscular and defined appearance.

The overhead press also engages the triceps.

The targeting of these upper arm muscles can help improve the strength and appearance of the triceps, which can be beneficial for activities that require arm extension, such as pushing or throwing.

Overhead presses can improve overall upper body strength.

Because it engages multiple muscle groups in the shoulders, upper chest, and upper back, it is a comprehensive exercise that can improve strength and function to these areas.

Additionally, it can make everyday activities, such as lifting and carrying, easier and more efficient.

The overhead press can help improve posture. By regularly engaging the muscles in the upper back and shoulders, the overhead press can help correct imbalances and improve overall posture.

The overhead press will engage your core muscles to provide stability to your body and maintain a stable base of support as you perform it. So this helps to strengthen your core muscles, improving your overall core strength. Because the overhead press is a weight-bearing exercise, it can also help to improve your overall balance and stability, further enhancing your core strength.

Overhead Press Muscle Pains

It’s normal to feel discomfort in your muscles when performing overhead presses, especially if you are new to the exercise or using a heavyweight.

However, suppose you experience sharp or intense pain.

In that case, refrain from performing the exercise and consult a healthcare professional.

Overhead pressing can put stress onto the shoulders and other joints, and improper form or underlying medical conditions can lead to pain and injury. It’s essential to seek medical advice if you experience pain while performing this exercise.

Continuing to exercise through pain can exacerbate the problem and potentially lead to more severe injuries.

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A healthcare professional can evaluate your condition and recommend appropriate treatment options, such as physical therapy, rest, or modifications to your exercise routine.

They can also guide on adequately performing the overhead press to minimize the risk of injury.

What Is The Suitable Age Range For An Overhead Press?

The appropriate age range for performing the overhead press will depend on various factors, including an individual’s overall physical health, fitness level, and experience with weightlifting.

Generally, it is safe for most healthy adults to perform overhead presses as long as they use the proper form and avoid overexertion.

Suppose you are still determining whether the overhead press is appropriate.

In that case, it’s always best to consult a healthcare professional or fitness expert.

They can guide how to perform the exercise safely and effectively and help you develop a personalized fitness plan suitable for your age, fitness level, and goals.

Some Discomfort Overhead Press Beginners May Encounter

As with every other exercise, if you are beginning to practice the overhead press, there are some discomforts you may experience.

These include strain to the shoulders or elbows.

Because the overhead press involves pressing a weight overhead, it significantly strains the shoulder and elbow joints.

If the weight is too heavy or you perform the exercise with poor form, it can lead to overuse injuries or chronic pain in these joints.

Another discomfort is muscle imbalances.

Because the overhead press primarily targets the muscles in the shoulders and upper arms, it can create imbalances if these muscle groups fail to stretch without the muscles in the back and chest.

The imbalance can lead to poor posture and an increased risk of injury.


In summary, you can build your muscle mass, improve upper body strength, increase muscle mass, and enhance core stability and power with the overhead press exercise.

It targets multiple muscle groups, including the deltoids, triceps, and core muscles.

By pressing a weight overhead, you are challenging your muscles to support and move a heavy load, which can increase your overall strength and power.

So, it can be especially beneficial for activities that require upper body strength, such as pushing, pulling, and lifting. It can also help to increase muscle mass.

This is because the exercise involves multiple muscle groups working together to perform the movement, which can stimulate muscle growth and development.

The overhead press can be challenging, and it’s essential to use the proper form to prevent injury.

If you suffer from shoulder or elbow injuries, be cautious when performing this exercise and consult a physician or certified trainer.

Finally, start with a light weight and gradually increase the load as you master the movement.

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